Norway’s high-energy representative at the Eurovision Song Contest sang his way into the finals on Saturday, when he’ll also be celebrating his 25th birthday. It’s bound to be quite a party for Touraj Keshtkar, better known as “Tooji.”
First he sang his way into the hearts of Norwegians, who gave him the most votes last winter in the country’s own run-up to Eurovision called Melodi Grand Prix. Now he’s on his way to capturing the hearts of other Europeans, as he sang and danced through another rendition of the original song he co-wrote, Stay.
“I’m incredibly happy, this is just fantastic,” Tooji told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) backstage after he won the spot for Norway in the finals. “I gave everything I had and thought, ‘either this will do it or not.’ Fortunately it really did.”
Tooji had ranked highly in unofficial press polls taken among journalists covering Eurovision. Norway ended up being the seventh country to be named as a winner after viewers all over Europe voted to select the 10 top performers in Thursday’s semi-final. There were 18 contestants in all, and now the top 10 will compete against the 10 selected in Tuesday’s final along with singers from countries who go directly to the final including France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the winner of last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Azerbaijan.
That’s where Eurovision has been playing out this week, and where Thursday’s semi-final was marred by Azerbaijani police reportedly using excessive violence against local participants in a demonstration outside the country’s state broadcasting offices. They’ve been calling for improvements to human rights in the repressive country where there’s restrictions on freedom of expression and on the press. On Thursday they demanded release of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and an end to censorship of state media.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that no foreign reporters or foreign human rights activists were arrested, but more than Azerbaijani protesters were. A spokesman for Amnesty International who was on the scene told NRK that police beat protesters, who also were rounded up and reportedly dumped in a desolate area 60 kilometers outside the capital of Baku, and told to find their own way back.
Tooji, whose own parents sought asylum in Norway 23 years ago after also being denied freedom of expression in Iran, has been concerned about the situation in Azerbaijan and already spoken out in favor of democracy, human rights and freedom. He still works full time for child welfare agency Barnevernet in Oslo and is especially interested in helping refugee children who’ve fled repression in their homelands.
On Thursday night, though, he clearly concentrated on his performance and was visibly delighted with the results as he waved the Norwegian flag onstage in Baku. Other countries advancing to the Eurovision finals on Saturday included Lithuania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, Ukraine, Sweden, Macedonia, Estonia, Malta and Turkey.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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